Biodiversity Activist No. 322

October 29, 2002


On Monday, 10-28-02, the Center for Biological Diversity won a temporary restraining order stopping a government/university research project linked to the killing of beaked whales in the Gulf of California. The order not only protects one of the largest and most important beaked whale populations in the world, it will help establish once and for all that U.S. environmental laws apply to U.S. funded projects killing wildlife in other nations.

Geographers from the National Science Foundation, Columbia University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology have been using acoustic cannons to bombard the Gulf with mind-numbing 220 decibel sound blasts. Their goal is to map portions of the sea floor, but the earshattering noise appears to be killing beaked whales as well. Scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service found two dead whales near the research area and believe they were killed by the deafening noise. It is likely that more whales have been killed, but no surveys have been conducted.

Dozens of beaked whales in the Bahamas have been killed by similar sound levels blasted into the ocean by the U.S. Navy. Nevertheless, the National Science Foundation refused to stop the deadly research project, claiming there was no “credible evidence” linking the acoustic cannons to the whale deaths. With no other option to save the whales, the Center went to court winning the restraining order.


In keeping with a legal agreement negotiated by the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 5,910 acres of critical habitat for the purple amole (Chlorogalum purpureum) on 10-24-02. The protected areas include grasslands and oak woodlands in Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties.

The Smithsonian Institution petitioned to list the purple amole as an endangered species in 1975. The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a listing proposal in 1976 but never completed the process. The Center and the California Native Plant Society filed suit in 1999, winning federal protection for the species in March 2000. During the 25 bureaucratic year delay between the Smithsonian petition and the listing, purple amole habitat and populations continued to decline, making the species harder and more expensive to recover today than if swift action had taken place in the 1970's.

Visit the Center's Native Plants Campaign


On 10-23-02, the Center for Biological Diversity submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the acuna cactus (Echinomastus erectocentrus var. acunensis) as an endangered species. The cactus is found at only seven small sites in two disjunct parts of Arizona: one between Florence and Kearny in south-central Arizona, and another in and around Organ Pipe National Monument in southern Arizona. It is threatened by mining, urban sprawl, livestock grazing, illegal collection, and spread of exotic plants. Of the seven sites, only the population in Organ Pipe National Monument receives any protection or monitoring. And even that population has declined sharply over the last decade. The other populations are near extinction.

The acuna cactus is one of thousands of imperiled plants orphaned by chronic federal protection delays. At the request of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1975 to list 3,244 plants as endangered species. Among them was the acuna cactus. The Service has delayed action on most, including the cactus, for over 25 years. Thus far it has listed only 508 of the Smithsonian plants. And most of those only after being repeatedly sued by environmental groups. Many of the Smithsonian plants went extinct due to the delays.


On 10-24-02, the Center for Biological Diversity, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Carson Forest Watch, Center for Native Ecosystems, Pacific Rivers Council, and fisherman Michael Norte notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they will sue the agency over its refusal to list the Rio Grande cutthroat trout as an endangered species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service admits the trout has been eliminated from as much as 99% of its historic range, but argues that the existence of just 13 tiny, secure populations is sufficient to make the species safe from extinction. Like most native cutthroat, the Rio Grande is threatened by introduction of non-native trout, livestock grazing, logging, road building, dams, water diversions, and disease. Without the protection of the Endangered Species Act, it will likely become extinct.

The state fish of new Mexico, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is one of 14 subspecies of cutthroat trout native to the Western U.S.. Two of the subspecies are extinct, four are already listed as endangered, and six have been petitioned for listing.

The Center has joined with the Pacific Rivers Council, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, and Trout Unlimited to form the Western Native Trout Campaign. The Campaign is dedicated to protecting and restoring all native trout in the Western U.S.. For more information:


Phoenix’s Papago Park hosted an eventful day of education and resistance this Columbus Day as members and supporters of the Zuni Salt Lake Coalition marched to the Salt River Project’s (SRP) corporate headquarters to demand that SRP drop plans to develop a new coal mine in western New Mexico. Over a dozen tribal runners from Zuni, Hopi and elsewhere joined the rally after completing a 300 mile run from the Zuni Salt Lake to Phoenix.

SRP’s proposed Fence Lake Coal Mine would destroy 18,000 acres of rolling hills and grasslands which are home to golden eagles, prairie dogs, and pronghorn antelope. The mine area also contains over 500 documented burial and other archeological sites, and an extensive network of ancient trails used by the Zuni, Acoma, Apache, Laguna and other tribes when making pilgrimages to the Zuni Salt Lake. The biological diversity and cultural richness of this unique area would be destroyed as the land is dynamited, bulldozed, and ripped open to dig for coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels. Zuni Salt Lake itself, sacred area to the Zuni and most other Southwestern tribes, would be drained by groundwater pumping needed to control dust at the mine.

The Zuni Salt Lake Coalition is a growing and diverse group of organizations and individuals dedicated to defeating the Fence Lake Coal Mine, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Zuni Pueblo, Zuni tribal member Cal Seciwa, Citizen’s Coal Council, Water Information Network, the Sierra Club, and Tonatierra.

Zuni Salt Lake Coalition website.


On 9-17-02, the last known Alabama sturgeon, a male named “bubba,” died in a state fish hatchery. We hope that a tiny number of wild fish still exist in the Cahaba and Alabama rivers, but intensive fish surveys and widespread recreational fishing have failed to find any since 1999. Had the federal government, especially the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, not delayed protection for the sturgeon for 25 years after determining it was endangered, a captive breeding program could have been set up, and the species might still be with us.

The Alabama sturgeon was formerly widespread throughout 1,000 miles of the Mobile River Basin of Alabama and Mississippi. Commercial fisheries at the turn of the century measured the yearly sturgeon catch in the tens of thousands of pounds. But habitat destruction, especially the construction of 11 dams and the dredging/channelizing of hundreds of miles of river, sent the long-lived sturgeon into a tailspin. By 1976, biologists described the fish as “endangered,” though it lacked any official designation or protection.

Rather than protect the sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made it a “candidate” for protection in 1982. As has been the case for thousands of species left languishing on the candidate list, the sturgeon’s habitat and population continued to decline. In 1992, the Fund for Animals, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation and a staff member of the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit to force a listing. The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a listing proposal in 1993, but withdrew it in 1994 when faced with massive political opposition lead by Alabama senators Howell Heflin and Richard Shelby. Though a handful of sturgeon still existed, the FWS justified withdrawing the listing by declaring the species extinct. Just four months later, however, a sturgeon was caught in the Alabama river.

Despite the clear evidence of the sturgeon’s existence, the Fish and Wildlife Service took no steps to protect what was clearly the most endangered fish in North America. The force action, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation filed a second lawsuit in 1995 and listing petition in 1998. The Fish and Wildlife Service finally listed the sturgeon as endangered in 2000. By then, only two fish were known to exist- both male and both living in the Marion State Fish hatchery.

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